From his rising popularity after his near miss grabbing the investment of Lord Alan Sugar on BBC’s The Apprentice to the launch of his Whisk app; it’s been a very busy year for young entrepreneur Nick Holzherr.
You may remember Nick Holzherr as one of the unlucky runners up on BBC’s 2012 The Apprentice. Soon you will know him as the brains behind the recipe of the Whisk app. We were fortunate to catch an interview with Nick in his office base in Birmingham, a stone’s throw from Kalexiko’s HQ. Whisking him away from a busy flurry of meetings, press events and work on the Whisk app; we spoke to Nick about his experience on The Apprentice, his life after the show, the reception of the Whisk app and his advice for fledgling entrepreneurs.
A lot of people watched The Apprentice and I’m sure the first thing that they would love to know is, how real is the show; what is it really like being in the boardroom with Lord Sugar?
“The first thing to remember, bearing in mind when watching the series, is that nobody in the series is an actor; we are real people. Before going on the show most of us hadn’t been on TV before so they have to make it real for us. For us to react how they would want us to react they make it real for us, if you like. The boardroom is in a studio, so it’s not in a big tower but the process is real; one does walk in, Lord Sugar walks in, he shouts at us for a few hours and we walk out and then he walks out. There’s no kind of chit chat, we don’t have a cup of tea with him or get introduced to him first. The first time you meet the candidates is in the boardroom. So they make it real for us, and it is tense; the process is engineered to be tense. They choose people with really big egos who will make sure they do their best to make themselves heard. Usually in a team you have one or two of those but in this process there’s fifteen others. So it is tense, it is real. The scenes that they film they try to hide the camera from the public most of the time. So they try and make it as real and close to business as possible. The question you asked me is the question I asked the cameraman when I first joined, I said ‘what do you say about this being real? and they said for a TV show it’s probably one of the most real there is.”
I think you came very close to winning it and a lot of people think you deserved to win. Being based in the same building as Kalexiko we remember you used to have a little coffee shack nearby and our team used to love buying coffee from there; but since then, to see you on The Apprentice was a big jump. You went from being just a normal guy, going to work to becoming a household name. How did you cope with the change in lifestyle?
“I think you take it in your stride; it did happen overnight but it wasn’t long after I finished university that it all happened. If you think back, it’s three and a half years from leaving university to being on the show. So overall I have been graduated four years now. The coffee shop was my first business. I set it up in my final year of university and it ran for about half a year after I finished. It still runs now, in the Mailbox in Birmingham but not by myself anymore. It is slightly surreal that overnight that suddenly this series you have done is put on TV and everyone knows who you are and the media want to know more about it, people begin to recognise you on the street and start to treat you better than they did before; which is for no logical reason (laughs).
Being filmed for the first time not having been on camera much before; I had done small interviews on West Midlands TV, but never anything as long as The Apprentice; suddenly going from someone with a small handheld camera to going to The Apprentice where they have a camera that is the size of a small child, and they have four of them, four sound men and five directors all sitting there; and all they want to know is about you. That experience when you first do it, very nerve-wracking. Once you’ve done it for a day and a half under huge amounts of pressure you forget how nerve-wracking it is and you just get on with it. Same with being on TV, the first time it goes out it’s a really strange experience; people know you and I found it strange. I stayed in my house I didn’t want to go out! I wasn’t sure what to do. But very quickly though I got used to it and I guess it becomes part of who you are, temporarily.”
So tell me a bit about life after The Apprentice, what has been going on since? We’ve heard a lot in the media that you have investors behind you. What kind of opportunities have you come across?
“The series finale aired in June and we raised an Angel round, an investment then and raised another round in December; so in total we have raised just over half a million pound in investment and this type of business that we have, as was rightly pointed out by Lord Sugar and his advisors, does require quite a bit of investment to get going. So we have quite a big team, a team of 20 people who primarily build the software but also bring the partners in to make this work. I guess where before, my first business was the coffee business and my second was an IT business and in both of those I had three, four, five guys in the business and now suddenly moving from that to what we have here requires different skills and you have to learn different things; for example, culture in a company becomes much more important. When you’ve got three or four guys it’s easy to ‘do culture’ as it’s just who you are. So I guess the challenges in business have changed and I find that really exciting; it’s nice to learn new things. We’re playing the game of doing business at a different level and it’s great fun.”
I think myself and others when watching the apprentice we weren’t completely clued up on what Whisk was and what the vision was behind it. It’s only recently now we have downloaded the app we have seen it all come to life. Of course a lot of people like to cook and many have made money in the food industry and your app is a great idea and Tesco and Waitrose are also involved. So far, although it has just come to market now, has it had good feedback?
“Absolutely, it has had great feedback. There are a lot of people who enjoy using it. I guess it was a nerve-wracking moment, building the software 8 months after the apprentice and not being able to release it until it’s ready and it took a long time to get ready. Then when it is ready you wonder what people are going to think. The idea had been around for around three years and it was something we had been playing around with. But, it was great. We launched it, we had great response from users, we had great response from the media, we had great response from app reviews– all positive. We had some from all the different big newspapers saying how great it was, so that was really good. We still have a long way to go as we are integrating into the food area, and we have integrated with small publishers but we need to integrate with the big ones really. (Whisk) works with Tesco and Waitrose at the moment. We need to integrate with the rest of the UK market; Sainsburys and Asda and once we have done that it’s a case of, right, where else do we go? Do we integrate with US supermarkets or do we integrate supermarkets in Europe and if so where in Europe; or in India? The online grocery market is growing everywhere.
We still have some work to do improving the business model in exactly how it’s going to work; what is our average revenue per user? At the moment is still skewed by all the media coverage we get- the numbers are better now than they probably will be in a few months time because we’re still getting all this coverage. So for us it’s about working out the exact numbers, working out a business model a hundred percent, proving all the assumptions that we had; we have proved half of them but we still have half of them to prove and bringing on board the big big brands. Then, ideally scaling it internationally. It’s a product that can be used anywhere in the world; we believe that online grocery shopping is the future, it may not be for everyone right now, but I think going forward in five or ten years it will be the future and now there is a big market who do use it, so it’s useful enough for a big enough niche in the UK and global Market.
We also have loads of very cool features that are coming along with it. Right now you can purchase ingredients for any recipe, what you will be able to do, very soon will be to look at what leftovers will you have. So what you will be able to do is, say you buy the ingredients for a recipe that has beef mince and you can only buy a store pack size which is 400 grams but you only need 200 grams for your recipe; you can use the software to do a very quick calculation of which items are perishable and how much is left over of them and you will then be able to work out what you will be able to cook with the leftovers that will go off, or the ones that are expensive.
Another thing is wine recommendations. We are looking into what is the taste profile of each recipe and and how we recommend the best wine for it. Collaborating on a shopping list with a family is also in the works. So if you have a partner and you shop together you can share one list and add things, not from recipes but also just as a shopping list. So there’s loads of things we have in the pipeline.”
The final thing I would like to ask to Nick, there are a lot of graduates finishing university out there who are struggling with a dull job market and student debt. In terms of yourself; someone who has recently finished university recently and achieved so much in a short amount of time; is there any advice you can give to recent graduates just leaving university struggling to get their foot in the door?
“I think this is advice I give to anybody in anything they do, whether it’s an entrepreneur running a business or if it’s someone working for someone else in a company; or even someone who has just graduated. I say, focus on execution, on getting stuff actually done and use your initiative and common sense. When people say, Nick what do you recommend I laugh, bearing in mind who am I to recommend anything…(laughs) but what I have learned is, get things done. So if you haven’t got a job, make sure you do ‘X’ amount of applications with quality information in them every day, and further yourself by taking something that you love and getting things done in that area.
I have a friend and he did a cycling blog and did it well. He been on ITV and SKY News not too long ago on how to cycle and now has a cycling shop on his blog and is doing very well out of it. You can make it work in anything you do, but I think the thing you do have to do is to focus on getting stuff done. The more you get out there, whether it is job related or hobby related, stuff will happen! People say they don’t know what to do and the question I ask them is how will you know what to do, how would you map out the process of finding out what do.
I would also say try to follow something that you’re genuinely interested in. Don’t do something you don’t enjoy. People say to me, what do I do to switch off and the answer is not that much actually because I genuinely enjoy what I do. I don’t want to switch off because I enjoy doing what I do. So try an do something that is worthwhile and makes you happy, I guess that’s the advice I would give.”
We at Kalexiko would all like to thank Nick for his time, his inspiration and for doing the interview. We have also attached the full interview as a sound clip so you can have a listen at your own leisure. If you would like to add anything to the interview, anything you think we have missed out or anything to add on what Nick has said then please leave a comment.
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